Conference examines the lack of women in power

Tamora Rosenbaum

SDSU held a conference on March 26 focusing on how to persuade women to trade the glass ceiling for a glass slipper and run for political offices.

The keynote speaker for the conference, Richard L. Fox, associate professor in the political science department at Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles, Calif., gave a presentation at 7 p.m. Monday night titled “Men Rule — the continued under-representation of women in U.S. politics.”

“There’s just something wrong about a country whose population is 51 percent women [and] has so few women in political office,” Fox said.

He said the large gap between the number of women and men in office is concerning because women have a unique perspective.

“Female legislators often focus on different policies, bringing attention to issues like women’s health and education for example and we’re missing out on that,” he said.

Fox first presented statistics demonstrating how severely women are under-represented in America. 17 percent of the representatives in the U.S. Congress are women and 12 percent of America’s governors are women. The ratio of men and women in state legislatures is slightly less disparate on average then at the national level, but not by much. This is a concern in South Dakota, where around 22 percent of state-level elected officials are women, as well as other states.

“Even though our only voice in congress is a woman, the percentage of women at the state level [in South Dakota] is low,” said Elizabeth Tolman, associate professor of communication studies and theater and one of the 10 SDSU professors that is a part of the Women’s Studies Program.

The presentation was based on a study that Fox and his partner and co-author, Jennifer Lawless, wrote about in their book, It Still Takes a Candidate: Why Women Don’t Run for Office.

The study was conducted through surveying and interviewing thousands of women to find out why they are less likely to consider running for a political office than men, even though a woman candidate is equally as likely as a male candidate to be elected — but only if they actually run.

The reasons for this difference are not the usual suspects — discrimination, difficulty of electoral process or not making it up the usual political candidate pipelines of business ownership or being a lawyer, educator or political activist.

“Women have as good of a chance as men to win an election, but they are much less inclined to run,” Fox said. “We decided to focus our study on finding out why.”

Fox and Lawless concluded, through their survey results, that women perceive the electoral environment in a less appealing light then men. They see it as more aggressive and competitive than men do and consider themselves less competitive, confident and qualified.

They also found women were less likely than men to receive the suggestion to run for an office from others. Libby Trammell, sophomore human development and family studies major and sole female candidate in the 2012 Students’ Association presidential election, said her decision to run was motivated by encouragement from her friends and family.

“I decided to run after Jared asked me to join him as his running mate and everyone I know told me [to] do it,” she said.

The survey showed women are also less likely to run because they are still responsible for the majority of childcare and household tasks. Many of the women Fox and Lawless surveyed said certain aspects of campaigning, such as reduced privacy and having less time with family, discouraged them from running for office.

“Women are still seen more as in-home, private, family-oriented citizens, while men are seen as out-of-home, public citizens,” said Fox. “We need to recruit women and spread awareness about women’s electoral success in order to close the gender gap between women and men in political offices in the future.”

This presentation on the difficulties women face in politics, and the two panel discussions held on the same topic earlier in the day, were intended to be a start to a conversation. SDSU organizations such as the Women’s Studies Program and the Campus Women’s Coalition hope the conference has brought the issue to the attention of more people at SDSU.

“We hope that the conference was a starting point for future discussions and that it highlighted this issue,” Tolman said.